Starting with a clean sheet!

Aboveandbeyond

New Member
Jan 24, 2017
5
ontario
Hi everyone

This is my first post to the forum so be gentle with me! I am in the enviable position of planning a new house on farm land that I bought several years ago. I want to make sure I get it right because this is a one shot deal.

It will be a pretty large house 6500 sq ft +/- over 3 levels, built on top a a hill with commanding views of the countryside. View is primarily west facing. I have a tree line to the east and to the south. I am also fortunate in that I have a mixed woodlot of about 80 acres. Mixed maple, oak, loads of cedar all sorts of other trees, deciduous and coniferous. woodlot has not been managed for years (if ever) so lots of fallen trees scrub etc. I also plan a 2000 sqft shop about 100 ft from the house

Building site is about 1000 feet from Hydro (electric) and natural gas supply and is a five acres grass field. We are just south of Canadian shield but we have lots of granite boulders and also limestone formations in the area

What I'm looking for from you all is, advice on what I should plan for heat and power in this home. I am originally from UK and miss the radiant heat we used back there. I cannot get used to the warm air heating fueled by propane, we use in our current home. Fine whilst its blowing (albeit noisy), but when off the house cools very quickly. My wife and I are pretty set on some kind of radiant heat.

I am almost spoiled for choice in options for the new house. I have been thinking about:

1)Wood Gasification Boilers since wood will be free apart from significant time invested to gather and process it and the daily chore of feeding the boiler. I seem to be favouring Garn, Froling,Econoburn or Heatmasterss boilers, but not fixed on these choices. I am also concerned that when I go away from time to time there will be no-one to stoke the boiler and can't afford the house to freeze up so will need some sort of back up.

2)Geothermal also seems another good option since I have no shortgae of land to bury the necessary pipework. Although I have read that in our location a horizontal format will not really work due to the cold winter temperatures unless I go pretty deep. I have a risk of encountering lots of granite boulders in doing this.

3) Solar -I also like the idea of solar - again plenty of room to place panels. With PV panels again there is a choice whether to connect to the grid to benefit from net metering but cost of connection, and our electric company's crazy distribution charges. Or, go fully independant and stay off grid. However cant rely on the sun shining all day everyday - this is Canada not Arizona!

I'm sure many people would like the opportunity to start from scratch but I am finding I'm getting more and more confused the more I read. SO I NEED YOUR HELP. What would you good folks do and why?
 

St. Coemgen

Feeling the Heat
Feb 4, 2016
272
Hungary
www.stcoemgen.com
Solar with the Gas line as a backup are really to seriously consider. I am not so convinced about the Geothermal mainly because you gave good reasons why it would a problem.

But, if you want to use your trees to heat, and if you are building new, and have the money, then do consider something like a Froling biomass wood chip furnace, auto fed by a bunker. That would be mostly trouble free, automatic heating all winter. And you can chip up fallen logs (that are not too rotten) rather easily. When you need more chips, just call in a logger with an industrial strength chipper and fill up the bunker, and pretty much the whole tree can be chipped (so no left over little branches like with cut and split operations). And no piles of wood to move around.
 

Aboveandbeyond

New Member
Jan 24, 2017
5
ontario
St Coemgen. Thanks for your response. I must admit I hadn't even considered chips. But you have a good point less waste and ease of feeding the boiler. I will have to investigate that option. Presumably I would need to make sure that the wood was well seasoned before chipping. I can't imagine how you could dry out green chips! With regard to solar and gas back up, I should have made clear in my original post, but connection to the natural gas line is going to be cost prohibitive. A friend of mine recently got them same gas company to quote for a 600ft connection and the price tag came in at $53000 ;ex
 

DickRussell

Feeling the Heat
Mar 1, 2011
254
central NH
OK, if you have been lurking around this forum for a while, you know what I'm about to say about your new build in a heating climate. You have one chance to get this right. Go "superinsulated." Go over to www.greenbuildingadvisor.com and search on "pretty good house." Assuming you do your homework on this and can find a good builder to work with, the extra cost to go to "superinsulated" rather than just "to code" is perhaps 5% extra. What you get is a house that is far more comfortable to live in, winter and summer, and costs far less to heat and cool.

When you go that route, forget radiant floor heating, and put the money saved on that plumbing into the external shell. A concrete or other floor doesn't feel "warm on bare feet" until it gets to upper 70s (F). In a house built "to code," the house loses heat fast enough for warm floors to feel comfortable. In a superinsulated house, the heat has no place to go quickly, so the whole room or house quickly goes to upper 70s, which feels stifling and makes you want to throw open some windows. So the circulating water temperature is modulated down to low 70s, which doesn't give you that warm piggies feeling. For a superinsulated house, the general advice given is to forget radiant floor heating, and for a basement level with a concrete slab, either keep your slippers on or cover the slab with low-pile commercial carpeting. With 4" or so of foam insulation under that slab, it will be close to room temperature.

As to what to install for heating, once you have gone the superinsulation route, whatever you install will be small in size and very inexpensive to operate. You get one chance to do this right, so don't build just "to code." Going superinsulated isn't rocket science, but it is building science, and how to do that is very well known now. But you have to do your homework, to make sure the builder gets it right. He may not have done one like this before, so you have to pick someone who is willing to work with you to give you want and to learn something in the process. You have to be involved, and not simply write checks.
 

Squirrel

Burning Hunk
Sep 23, 2014
156
Ontario
Try getting estimates from private contractors for a gasline installation, my daughter just built a new house and the gas line crosses fields and was horizontal bored under a river for a sensible price!
Having lived in a house that size for a while myself I have to ask if you really need it? Whatever heat source you use will be reduced with the size of the house, as will cleaning and maintenance.
 

Aboveandbeyond

New Member
Jan 24, 2017
5
ontario
Go "superinsulated."...... the extra cost to go to "superinsulated" rather than just "to code" is perhaps 5% extra. What you get is a house that is far more comfortable to live in, winter and summer, and costs far less to heat and cool.

When you go that route, forget radiant floor heating, ..........For a superinsulated house, the general advice given is to forget radiant floor heating, and for a basement level with a concrete slab, either keep your slippers on or cover the slab with low-pile commercial carpeting. With 4" or so of foam insulation under that slab, it will be close to room temperature.

As to what to install for heating, once you have gone the superinsulation route, whatever you install will be small in size and very inexpensive to operate. You get one chance to do this right, so don't build just "to code." Going superinsulated isn't rocket science, but it is building science, and how to do that is very well known now. But you have to do your homework, to make sure the builder gets it right. He may not have done one like this before, so you have to pick someone who is willing to work with you to give you want and to learn something in the process. You have to be involved, and not simply write checks.
Dick Thanks for your advice and yes I know that the most cost effective spend is on insulation rather than the ongoing cost of constant heat supply so the point is well taken. It makes absolute sense. However just to dig a little deeper :-- The house will have a lot of glass most of which will face WSW. Not the best insulator for sure and not the best orientation. However the whole point of building in this location is to capture and enjoy the view so glass will be a major component. Also although it may sound silly to you and others I don't think carpet will cut it with "The Boss" although I do have some good slippers! I had not considered the house being stuffy and I understand how that could occur with the situation you describe do you think this would still be an issue with open concept and large windows. If so what would be your suggestion for heat in this situation. I don't want to find that I'm in the middle of a Canadian winter living in a large ice box. I'd rather have a heat system that I can turn off if not needed rather than wishing I had put one in but having missed the boat!

Your point on builders is well taken. I am meeting one on Saturday so I will quiz him about his opinions on insulation!
 

Aboveandbeyond

New Member
Jan 24, 2017
5
ontario
Try getting estimates from private contractors for a gasline installation, my daughter just built a new house and the gas line crosses fields and was horizontal bored under a river for a sensible price!
Having lived in a house that size for a while myself I have to ask if you really need it? Whatever heat source you use will be reduced with the size of the house, as will cleaning and maintenance.
Squirel Thanks Yes I should make such enquires myself. Your daughters installation sound quite a challenge. I see you are in Ontario too. Is your daughter anywhere near the Kawartha Lakes? If so, she may have come contractor recommendations ! With regards to the house size I keep asking the same question but can't seem to get my head around it. In actual fact the new house will be smaller than the one I'm in now but hopefully much better designed, insulated and heated! I'm sure one day I will look back and say what was I thinking of but gotta dream big!
 

DBoon

Minister of Fire
Jan 14, 2009
1,191
Central NY
My initial reasoning for a house remodel in progress was to buy a nice indoor wood boiler and connect it to a cast iron radiator system. After further review, I went with a geothermal system with 450 feet of vertical boreholes (and still using cast iron radiators) - it probably cost a little less than the wood boiler, and I don't have to worry about heating the house when I'm not around or when I get too old and unmotivated to cut the wood and load the boiler. Think ahead on this a little - if you are already 50 years old, cut and split 10-12 cords of wood for a season or two and then decide whether that wood boiler still looks like the right move.

Dick Russell is right on the insulation - my walls will have an average R-value of 23. I'm keeping the existing windows and will add better wooden storms to them. I've modeled a 1600 square foot house at about 18,000 BTU/hour heat loss when 0 degrees F outside. Good insulation will help you to save you a lot of money on whatever heating system you install.

Then, if you want to burn wood, get a nice woodstove and run it when you want. There are plenty that are big, clean burning and nice looking. A look at the Woodstock stove page will show you there is a good range of options for heating a big space.
 

DickRussell

Feeling the Heat
Mar 1, 2011
254
central NH
..... The house will have a lot of glass most of which will face WSW. Not the best insulator for sure and not the best orientation. However the whole point of building in this location is to capture and enjoy the view so glass will be a major component. Also although it may sound silly to you and others I don't think carpet will cut it with "The Boss" although I do have some good slippers! I had not considered the house being stuffy and I understand how that could occur with the situation you describe do you think this would still be an issue with open concept and large windows. If so what would be your suggestion for heat in this situation. I don't want to find that I'm in the middle of a Canadian winter living in a large ice box. I'd rather have a heat system that I can turn off if not needed rather than wishing I had put one in but having missed the boat!
I'm in climate zone 6, same as you (or you in 5?). When my wife and I were laying out floor plans, and recognizing that even a good triple-pane window would have a U factor of perhaps 0.17 (R-6), relatively speaking a "thermal hole" in an otherwise R40 wall, I'd tease her about where she wanted "the window" to be. Well, the final window selection actually was fairly generous (in my mind) on the east "lake view" side, which gives very nice views. We have a mixture of casement and fixed-glass ("picture") windows, all triple-pane. I'd advise thinking carefully about putting in anything resembling a whole wall of windows just to get good view. Big enough is just that, and too much window area will just give you a cool room, no matter how good the windows are. And consider, too, that not every window must be operable. It's nice to be able to open windows now and then, but be selective. A fixed-glass window will have much lower air leakage. Next best are casements and awning windows, which draw tightly against seals. Worst for leakage (read: cold drafts) are double-hung and sliders. I'd avoid the latter, no matter how nice you think they may look.

As to what kind of heating system to have, it almost doesn't matter for a superinsulated house. If it burns a fuel (gas, oil) it likely will be oversized by at least a factor of two. A heat pump (geo or air-sourced minisplit) will be right-sized if the heat loss model is done carefully,. Contractors tend to make generous assumptions and wind up oversizing things, because they make more money off biger units and they don't want callbacks for complaints about the house being cold. For example, I have a two-ton geo unit, which I specified based on my own heat loss calculations. The distributor and two "approved" installers all wanted to put in a five-ton unit. As it turns out, my two-ton unit keeps the place comfy down to zero F outside in just first stage.
 

Where2

Feeling the Heat
Feb 3, 2013
364
South Florida
I'm enjoying this discussion as I plan renovations to our second home in climate zone 7/8, especially considering I grew up in climate zone 1.